Recently I have been going off-track. Heading straight out into the wilderness. I do this for the delight of discovering new things, the challenge of walking in the forest without getting lost, to get lost, to feel tiny, to feel more. I do it because it makes me happy.
This walking is not about exercise. It is slow, considered and gentle. I must be alone.
It feels good to walk into a wild place with no route in mind, no expectations and no responsibility for anyone else. I don’t know what I will see, discover, think about, or where I’ll end up. I’ve finally realised, at age forty-one, that I need these experiences.
Every step is considered. I tread softly, noticing the immediate landscape, the things directly under my body. Sometimes I follow wallaby tracks, ending up in places I have to crawl through – getting to see, feel and smell the earth up close. I notice minuscule fungi threads climbing over rotting wood and moss that looks like tiny palm trees. I avoid stepping on ants’ nests and crushing tender shoots. It can be a tiptoe dance.
Sometimes I set myself the challenge of not breaking a single spider web on a particularly webby day. This has me doing multiple detours, commando crawling under low-hanging webs, stepping over or awkward side-bending around almost invisible nets. I would look crazy to anyone watching, but no-one is. What joy!
A patch of ground that feels right usually appears. I sit down, make a pot of tea and observe the world around me. I lie on my tummy, put my face into the leaf litter and inhale. The sweet, fresh fungal scent of rotting leaf litter is a drug.
Sometimes I choose an ant to follow until it is out of view. I watch it whisper secrets into the face of the ants going in the opposite direction. I wonder, and will never know, what they communicate to each other. I wonder how long that tree has been excreting ruby red sap and if it’s okay. I wonder how many species of birds I can hear, and how many I can’t hear. I wonder which eucalyptus species will be flowering next and how many different birds, marsupials and insects will visit for a feed.
For all of my ‘wonders’, I don’t necessarily need to know the answers. Lots of my wonders don’t even have an answer, I just like to wonder, always have. When I arrive home from my wanderings, I might look through my fungi or bird books to find out the names of things, or send pictures to friends if I really need to know, but not always.
Many of us are terrified of what is happening (or what is not happening) in our world. It is scary and heart breaking to witness the natural world in a state of unravelling. But there are millions of little miracles happening under every leaf, shell and river rock. You are allowed to visit them, these loves of yours. You are allowed to sit, walk, cry, crawl in wild places for hours, days.
Wander until you get lost, and you might find yourself wonder-filled. It’s a nice place to be.